Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Musical Anecdotes --40-Vikku Vinayakram(August 11,1942….)


  Musical   Anecdotes --40

                                                     40—Vikku Vinayakram(August 11,1942….)






                                Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram, also known as Vikku Vinayakram is a Grammy Award–winning Indian percussionist . He plays Carnatic music  with the ghatam , an earthen pot, and is credited with popularizing the ghatam. T.H. Vinayakram, affectionately known as Vikku, has transformed himself into an international celebrity with his imaginative and beautiful drumming on the ghatam.


                              He was awarded the Padma Shri  , given by Government of India  in 2002, and later the 2012 Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship  , the highest honour in the performing arts conferred by the Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama. Finally he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2014. Vinayakram was conferred the Hafiz Ali Khan Award for "unmatched contribution in the field of music" in 2000. He is also the first South Indian musician to be awarded the Grammy for Best World Music Album for his participation in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum , in which he played ghatam and morsing.  He donated all the proceeds from the award to a charity organization in south India. He was also nominated for the 1996 Grammy Awards  for Best World Music Album  for his participation in 'Raga Aberi' along with L.Shankar   on the ten string double violin and Zakir Hussain  on the table. 



                               Vinayakram was born to Kalaimaamani T. R. Harihara Sharma, a musician and teacher. He played on the mridangam, morsingh, and the gottuvadhyam. Vikku  took up playing at a very young age.His concert career began at the age of 13. His first performance occurred on March 5, 1957 at the Sri Rama Navami   festival in Thoothukudi .While proceeding for the arangetram  the tuned ghatam instrument was broken by a child named Ganesh, which by itself had been a good omen for his bright career.  He was soon accompanying many famous vocalists in Carnatic music at the time, including Chembai Vaidyanatah Bhagavathar, M.Balamuralikrishna, G.N.Balasubramaniam, Madura Mani Iyer, Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Maharajapuram Santhanam ,among others. His brother, T.H.Subash Chandran , also excelled in the field. The Ghatam followed the master by rising to fame as a percussion instrument that required nimble fingers and strong stomach muscles to control the mouth of the pot.


                                     Vinayakram first became known in the West in the mid 1970s as a member of the group Shakti, which consisted of the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L. Shankar, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and Vikku. The extraordinary speed and precision of his duets with Zakir Hussain captivated international audiences. Vikku once commented on the brilliance of this fusion group:

It is universally acknowledged that Shakti's music is unique. In this group I played ghatam. Many of the compositions performed in this group were inspired by traditional Indian ragas, which resulted in grand appreciation from Indians, as well as audiences in the West. Only through this group did I have the new experience of entering the world of fusion music, and I think we were able to exhibit and develop our individual talents to the maximum extent possible. This liberty given to the artist resulted in achieving the fullest coordination and success in the group. Shakti, being the predecessor of many and various contemporary bands, could hence be termed the 'Godfather' of fusion music."

                                         Vinayakram has also performed with J.G. Laya, an experimental group which includes pianists and other percussionists.


                                   Reminisces  Vikku about his Grammy Award. 'On my way to Cleveland in 1993 for accompanying Mandolin Srinivas and Flute Ramani in the Tyagaraja Utsavam. I had to participate in a jazz programme in Germany. After I finished the event, a German violinist accompanied me to the airport to see me off. I missed the flight. The German said he would like to buy some strings from a shop nearby and took me there. There I found a small sized ghatam. I tried my hand on it. The shop owner asked me who I was, I told him I am a Grammy Award winner and he was so excited that he asked for a certificate about the quality of the ghatam, which was really superb. He said it was made with the German soil, which was as good as the Manamadurai earth which is supposed to be the best for ghatams. In terms of Indian currency the German ghatam cost Rs 6,000/- and the shop owner gave the tiny ghatam packed in a beautiful box as a gift. I took it carefully to Cleveland as a memento.

                                        In Cleveland Viku found his Indian ghatam was found broken and he had to use his German ghatam. That ghatam was in perfect sruti alignment with Mandolin sruti,


                                      One more recall. "Asked why he took to ghatam Viku said—'In a train accident my father lost one of his fingers and this ruled out his becoming a professional mridangist,So he started the Tala Vadya Vidyalaya.If  the family had to be run his father would play mridangam and I would play the ghatam so that both of us would get paid,"


                                        Another cute true story. "My father and I had gone to Tuticorin for a cutcheri. The hawkers were selling pearl oysters. Many vidwans purchased to see if they were lucky enough to find a pearl in any one of them.At first my father was not for purchasing any oysters. But some how he relented and I took a handful of oysters purchased at six annas—today's 46 paise. On opening there was a small pearl in one of them. Someone offered to pay Rs.1000/- for the pearl. But the vidwans were not for selling it and told my father "This is a good omen for your son. He will shine like a pearl."Even today I have this pearl as a memento."



                                      Vikku has travelled widely across Europe, America, the Middle East, Australia, etc, giving music concerts. He had also undertaken a musical tour under the auspices of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Sangeeth Natak Academy.Vikku is an international musician in every sense of the word. As a master of ceremonies once uttered prior to a concert in Toronto, Canada in 1993:

                                     'Mr. Vinayakram is a jet-setter; day before yesterday he was performing in Madras, and a week before he was in Germany, and then tomorrow he is going back to London, starting a tour on the seventh, coming back on the tenth to Cleveland, and going back to Germany on the fourteenth....'


                                   Vinayakram has a number of titles and awards to his name, including: "Asthana Vidhwan" of Kanchi Kama Koti Peetam, "Ghatam Nagamani" given by Sri Sri Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, "Kalaimamini" given by the government of Tamil Nadu, India, and the First Sangeeth Natak Academy award for ghatam in 1988, Vinayakram is also noted for his accompaniment in the first Carnatic concert given at the United Nations in New York by M. S. Subbulakshmi in 1966.


                                Vinayakram's younger brother  T.H. Subash Chandran,  an accomplished ghatam artiste, is perhaps the greatest modern day exponent of "Konnakol." This verbal utterance of the rhythmic syllables is an art that is becoming dangerously close to obsolete. T.H. Subash Chandran is keeping alive an art that has had such illustrious practitioners as Pakkiriah Pillai and Vellore Gopalachari (father of current day mridangist Vellore Ramabhadran).



                                      Vinayakram is Principal of Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya in Chennai, India - the academy established by his late father and teacher in 1958. It continues to produce new stars of Carnatic percussion. Vinayakram has two sons who are currently making names for themselves in the field of Carnatic percussion, namely, the elder V. Selvaganesh and the younger T.H.V. Umashankar. Unlike his father, however, Selvaganesh's chosen instrument is the Kanjira . Umashankar has taken up his father's instrument, the ghatam. Both being popular accompanists, they are currently accompanying a number of Carnatic musicians in concerts in India.This school teaches percussion free of cost to enthusiasts including under-privileged students.  Many accomplished artists like Karaikudi Mani and Ghatam Sukanya Ramgopal have passed out of this school. Shri.Vinayakram  himself was a student of this school. At present, there are seventy five students in this school.


                                      Spanning six decades of service to Indian music, Shri Vinayakram is the only musician to have received awards from four different presidents of India - Dr Rajendra Prasad, Hon R. Venkatraman, Hon K. R. Narayanan, and Hon Pranab Mukherjee. Sangeetha Natak Academy conferred fellowship award on him.

                                       Recently Vinayakram was featured in a percussion show called Drums of India, along with Zakir Hussain, sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, drummers Sivamani and Taufiq Qureshi and enchanted the audience with his dazzling performance.


                                       Vinayakram has won numerous prestigious awards in India. He has many recordings to his credit and is also the author of several books on percussion in Tamil and English. Most recently, Vinayakram has forged and led the group "The Mahaperiyava," an ensemble of young, talented artists from Chennai.